Monday, April 23, 2012


As a gardener it makes perfect sense for me to oppose the growth of invasive wild plants in the midst of the flowers and bushes that I am trying to cultivate.

 “Why do farmers remove weeds from the fields where crops are grown? 

 Because weeds drain nutrients from the soil for their own growth - depriving the desired crop of vital food. Additionally, the less weeds there are in a field, the more crop can be grown.” ( 

And it makes even more sense, at least on the small scale that I am operating, to uproot these unwanted competitors in a manner that causes as little damage as possible to the “good plants” as well as the birds and bees that hang around with them. That is to say – get in there with bad guys and rip them out. It’s fun. It’s good exercise. And all that gets harmed are the weeds – and occasionally my back.

Some give up their grip on the earth easily – just a grab and yank and they are gone. Others require a more surgical approach to sever their relationship with the soil. For the latter I use one of my three best-loved landscaping tools – the fork-tongued weeder. (My other two favorites are my pruning saw and my “Big Foot” lawn edger.)

This time of year the most apparent weed is the dandelion – apparent in two ways: (1) early spring is their prime growing and sowing season and (2) they are so damn obvious with their bright yellow flowers preening above my newly emerging upstart green lawn.

Dandelions are tailor-made for my weeding tool (or vice-versa). So this past week, every day, I have been busy excising these invaders from my organically treated lawn. Once they are dislodged, I toss the carcasses into an empty fifty-pound sunflower seed bag. I began on Monday. By Wednesday, when I dumped the contents of the bag into my trash bin, the bag was half full. By Saturday, it was three-quarters stuffed. Most of the plants are small. But a few are large enough to provide salad for two if you were so inclined – which I, having “been there, done that” in my childhood, most definitely am not.

 Day One I felt overwhelmed by the task at hand, so I limited my attack to the largest section of my yard. Days Two and Day Three I swept the remaining portions clean – each time returning to the previously conquered area(s) to root out the new dandelions that had appeared there overnight. By Day Four, I was overwhelmed by anger at the insolent persistence of the show-off yellow intruders. And so it goes.

 I am obviously not alone. There are pages and pages of anti-dandelion websites. One of them (television station KAKE in Kansas) has comments about “dandelion anxiety” (similar to “road rage”) over the uncontrolled presence of the yellow flowered weed in other neighbor’s lawns.

Anita Sanchez writes about the fall from grace for this once popular flower in her book “The Teeth of the Lion: The Story of the Beloved and Despised Dandelion”:

 “This most common of plants is now a despised weed, but it wasn't always that way. Dandelions were once a valued commodity, purposely transported by humans across oceans and continents. Americans today spend forty billion dollars annually on lawn care, and a hefty part of that budget goes to the attempt to eradicate dandelions–the very plant that was brought to this country by its earliest settlers, who prized the plant for its medicinal powers, and nurtured the cheerful golden flowers for their beauty. Not too long ago, prize dandelions were exhibited at county fairs--one variety was patriotically christened the "American Improved." Gardeners used to weed out the grass to make room for the dandelions. 

“What happened? In an amazingly short space of time–less than one human life-span–this loved garden flower became the most unpopular plant in the neighborhood. Thirty million acres of the United States are lawns, and an estimated eighty million pounds of pesticides are used on them annually. Probably no other plant in the world undergoes such a barrage of deadly chemicals; humans have attempted to exterminate dandelions with a passion that's usually reserved for cockroaches or tarantulas. Yet the dandelion remains.”

Although it personally bothers me to be grouped in with the chemical-barraging, lawn-lovers – I think my poison-free, manual method of removal along with the organic lawn care landscaper that we employ gives me enough ethical cover to actually feel good about what I am doing.

But now this. Anita Sanchez continues:

“Dandelions are good for your lawn. Their wide-spreading roots loosen hard-packed soil, aerate the earth and help reduce erosion. The deep taproot pulls nutrients such as calcium from deep in the soil and makes them available to other plants. Dandelions actually fertilize the grass.” 


In order to verify her claim I asked the Internet, “Are dandelions good for the lawn?” but the only answer that I got were re-postings of the above quote on various other pro-weed websites, plus generalized weed-loving platitudes from several others.

When I asked the opposite, “Are dandelions bad for the lawn?” I found an equal number of sources all of which said basically “It depends on whether you like them or not.” – then went on to describe how to decimate them chemically. I suspect that some of these websites had a vested interest in the answer – and that the relatively recent “attempt to eradicate dandelions” in general was a previously non-existent demand created by the suppliers of the solution.

That same marketing-driven, dandelion-phobic movement probably influenced me.

 Or maybe it was the tart, biting salads made from the yellow-flowered plant that I was fed in my youth – free-range florets from an empty neighborhood lot. Some bitterness lasts forever.

 I don’t care what their advocates say – I still don’t like dandelions.

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